Did you know August 7 is National Lighthouse Day? It was news to me too. Coincidentally it’s also the day I’ve chosen to share our lighthouse tour of the West Coast. I’d call that Serendipity!
Our family went on a most wonderful summer vacation this year, and a large part of it revolved around visiting lighthouses (something we’d never done before). Knowing we’d be driving along the coast we decided to guess in advance how many lighthouses we might see on our journey with guesses ranging from 2 – 12. Along the way we discovered what many people already know: Lighthouses are cool! How cool are lighthouses? So cool in fact, that we saw 15!
We couldn’t stop at every one, but driving gave us the freedom to stop at many, and the combination of history, architecture, and scenic beauty provided something for each of us.
Almost all of the lighthouses had stunning views and many had beach access with vibrant life filled tide pools and nature walks, or short hikes. Many were open to the public, some offered guided tours, or had museums and more than a few offered sleeping accommodations on site.
We were fascinated to learn about the inner workings of the lighthouses and their magnificent crystal lenses, which can shine light, in some cases, as far as 25 miles out to sea. Weighing thousands of pounds the lenses were crafted in Paris, France and then shipped to their respective lighthouses. Every lighthouse has its own unique light signal. My favorite were the red and white lenses!
The lives of the lighthouse keepers were hard, but their job of keeping the light shining was imperative to the lives and safety of the sailors navigating the rocky waters off the coast. They lived and worked within the lighthouses and farmed the land nearby.
13 Lighthouses of the West Coast
Santa Cruz Breakwater (Walton) Lighthouse
Location: Seabright State Beach, Santa Cruz, California
Height: 41.5 ft
Though there has been a guiding light in the Santa Cruz Harbor since the mid 60s the present lighthouse was only built in 2002, making it the youngest lighthouse of this bunch.
You can’t enter the lighthouse, but Seabright Beach, located just off of East Cliff Drive and is part of the Twin Lakes State Beach, is a wonderful place to spend the day! Families stay all day and into the night picnicking, boogie boarding, swimming and roasting marshmallows.
The grounds are open to the public, but the tower is closed. The beaches are open until 10 pm and bonfires are permitted. During summer days there are lifeguards and restrooms.
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Pigeon Point Ligthouse
Location: Pescadero, California
Height: 115 ft
Towering 115 feet above the windswept cliffs of the California Coastline the Pigeon Point Lighthouse has been guiding sailors safely home since 1872. Pigeon Point is one of two lighthouses that share the distinction of being the tallest on the West Coast and is also one of the tallest in the United States.
The lighthouse itself is currently under renovation, but don’t miss a walk around the grounds for the stunning views of both the lighthouse and surrounding coast. Had I known in advance about the Pigeon Point Hostel I might have considered a stay in this amazing setting.
Pigeon Point is 50 miles south of San Francisco and just south of Half Moon Bay. The Lighthouse grounds are open 8:00 am to Sunset and 30 min guided history walks are available daily at 1pm.
You might also be interested in: Half Moon Bay! The Ocean Is Calling…
Point Reyes Lighthouse
Location: Point Reyes National Seashore, Point Reyes Station, California
Height: 35 ft
Point Reyes is the windiest place on the Pacific Coast and the second foggiest on the North American Continent, so it wasn’t really a surprise that it was fogged in the day of our visit. However, the wind did provide moments of clarity.
The Point Reyes Lighthouse was built in 1870 and operated for 105 years before being automated by the Coast Guard. Although we missed the visitor center opening hours, the park was open, and we got a foggy view of the lighthouse from the viewing platform above.
The Lighthouse Visitor Center and stairs (308) leading down to the lighthouse are open (weather permitting) Friday – Monday 10:00 am to 4:30 pm. Keep in mind that there are no gas stations or food services within 20 miles of the Lighthouse. In August 2018 the Lighthouse will undergo a large renovation project.
You might also be interested in: The Ultimate West Coast Family Road Trip Part 1: Northern California
Point Arena Lighthouse
Location: Point Arena, California
Height: 115 ft
There are two lighthouses in California that claim the Tallest Lighthouse title. The first is Pigeon Point, and the other is Point Arena, they are both 115 feet tall. The original more traditional looking lighthouse was built in 1870, but was heavily damaged in the 1906 earthquake, and subsequently torn down.
The current lighthouse resembles a smokestack, which makes sense since it was built by a smokestack company. The original stairs were salvaged and are still in use today.
One of three lighthouses we had the opportunity to climb. I wished we’d had more time to enjoy the stunning views of the surrounding areas and coastline.
Point Arena Lighthouse is open every day of the year except Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day. Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day Summer Hours: 10 am to 4:30 pm The last Tower Tour is at 4:15 pm The grounds, Museum and Gift Store are open until 4:30 pm. General admission including Tower tour: $7.50 per adult, $1 for children ages 5 – 11, under 5 free
Cabrillo Point Light Station
Location: Mendocino, California
Height: 47 ft
The Point Cabrillo Light Station, located just north of Mendocino was definitely a highlight (pun intended) of this trip. The walk to the Light Station is truly lovely, offering stunning views in every direction, and we were delighted to encounter wild turkeys and their young as well as a California condor along the way.
The lighthouse, built in 1909, has a small museum and gift shop inside. The tiniest aquarium you ever saw is just down the path. Should I find myself this way again, I’ll definitely be looking into the unique accommodations offered onsite.
The Light Station is approximately one half mile walk from the entry gate on Point Cabrillo Drive. The parking area is open from sunrise – sunset daily. Entrance to the lighthouse museum and aquarium are free. Tours of the lighthouse lens are only offered 8 days per year and are $5. Check the website for dates.
Battery Point Lighthouse
Location: Crescent City, California
Height: 45 ft
Crescent City is the last city before crossing the California Oregon border. That novelty alone would have been enough reason to stop (for me), but the presence of the Battery Point Lighthouse, one of California’s first lighthouses, sealed the deal.
Built in 1856 this was the only lighthouse we visited with an active lighthouse keeper in residence.
The Lighthouse is only accessible at low tide. We opted to explore the tide pools instead of taking the tour and had no regrets whatsoever.
The Lighthouse is open April – September, tides permitting, 10:00 am – 4:00 pm, every day. There are no public restrooms on the island.
Cape Blanco Lighthouse
Location: Port Orford, Oregon
Height: 59 ft
Knowing we would arrive at Cape Blanco Lighthouse after opening hours, we decided to stop anyway. After all Cape Blanco, built in 1870, is the oldest continually operating and most westerly of all the lighthouses in Oregon, not only that it has the highest focal plane (256 ft above the sea) and Oregon’s first woman keeper started here in 1903.
The Lighthouse is open Wednesday – Monday, 10:00 am – 3:30 pm. Guided tours are offered April – October $2 for adults; children 15 and under are free.
Location: Umpqua Lighthouse State Park, Oregon
Height: 65 ft
The original Umpqua Lighthouse, built in 1857, was the first lighthouse in the Oregon Territory. Destroyed by floods the new lighthouse was built in a new location overlooking Winchester Bay. It was completed in 1894.
The beautiful red and white first-order lens is one of just a few in the country that is still in operation.
The lighthouse is open May 1 – October 30. Tours are offered from 10:00 am – 4:00 pm daily; $3 for adults, $2 for children.
Coquille River Lighthouse
Location: Bandon, Oregon
Height: 40 ft
The Coquille River Lighthouse, built in 1896, was definitely one of my favorite lighthouses. Its location in Bullards Beach State Park is just north of Bandon, but it can be seen from Old Town just across the river. I was so excited when the sky turned a vibrant shade of pink that I jumped up from the dinner table to grab this shot.
The next morning we went to Bullards Beach State Park for a closer look. We were too early to go inside, but enjoyed walking around the outside and exploring the nearby driftwood beach.
The lighthouse is open 11:00 am – 5:00 pm mid-May – September. The tower is off limits due to safety concerns.
You might also be interested in: The Ultimate West Coast Family Road Trip Part 2: Oregon
Heceta Head Lighthouse
Location: Between Florence & Yachats, Oregon
Height: 56 ft
Heceta Head Lighthouse, built in 1894, claims to be the most photographed lighthouse in the United States, and I believe it. It sits 200 feet above the sea, surrounded by breathtakingly beautiful scenery and I know I certainly took my fair share of photos during our visit.
A short .5 mile hike from Heceta Head Beach will take you up to the lighthouse where you’ll be treated to amazing views. Along the way you’ll find a gift shop, which sells ice cream. Heceta Head Beach with its many tide pools and rock formations is a fabulous place to go exploring.
The interior of the lighthouse is closed through September 30, 2018, for renovations, but the gift shop and interpretive programs are open. Lighthouse programs run from 11:00 am – 3:00 pm Friday through Monday. Should you wish to spend more time in this gorgeous place you’ll find a B&B onsite as well.
Yaquina Head Lighthouse
Location: Newport, Oregon
Height: 92 ft
Our visit to Yaquina Head, an Outstanding Area of Natural Beauty, was easily my favorite day of the entire trip! We saw an abundance of wildlife, including whales, seals, and bald eagles, explored the Cobble Beach tide pools, and climbed to the top of Oregon’s tallest lighthouse.
As you tour the Yaquina Head Lighthouse you’ll go back in time and learn what it was like to be a lighthouse keeper in 1873.
Planning our visit around the tide tables we spent hours peering into the water at the Cobble Beach marine garden, which sits just below the lighthouse. Brightly colored sea lemons, purple urchins, and giant sea stars, were just a few of the sea creatures we saw and touched.
Free tours of the lighthouse are offered on a limited basis, and can be booked at the Interpretive center, which is open 10:00 am – 5:00 pm. Tip: Book your lighthouse tour early. They fill up!
Cape Meares Lighthouse
Location: Tillamook, Oregon
Height: 38 ft
You’ll find the Cape Meares Lighthouse Just 10 miles down the road, from the Tillamook Creamery. A bright and sunny day over in Tillamook, by the time we arrived at the lighthouse we were completely fogged in.
Cape Meares Lighthouse, first lit in 1890, is the shortest lighthouse in Oregon. The approach from above was unique and picturesque, even with the ever present fog. We had the opportunity to tour the lighthouse, and I loved being inside the red and white lens.
Entrance to the lighthouse and tours are free. The lighthouse is open Monday – Thursday 11:00 am – 4:00pm and Friday – Sunday 11:00 am – 6:00 pm
Point Fermin Lighthouse
Location: Point Fermin Park, San Pedro, Los Angeles
The Point Fermin Lighthouse is located on the southernmost point of Los Angeles, open to the public, it includes a museum and guided tours.
Point Fermin Park, offers sweeping ocean views, wide grassy areas for running free, trees for climbing, a playground, and picnic areas. Take a stroll along the bluffs as we did, or bring a picnic and enjoy the view from one of the park’s many tables. If you keep your eyes open you just might see a dolphin.
The Fermin Point Lighthouse and museum are open Tuesday – Sunday 1:00 pm – 4:00 pm. Admission is free.
If you’re wondering, it was Tim who won the guess how many lighthouses game with his guess of 12! Interested in viewing some of these magnificent lighthouses? Here is a handy map with their locations.